Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Our Lords Sermon on the Mount.: Chapter XI
29. “Be kindly disposed,” 92 says he, “toward thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” I understand who the judge is: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” 93 I understand who the officer is: “And angels,” it is said, “ministered unto Him:” 94 and we believe that He will come with His angels to judge the quick and the dead. I understand what is meant by the prison: evidently the punishments of darkness, which He calls in another passage the outer darkness: 95 for this reason, I believe, that the joy of the divine rewards is something internal in the mind itself, or even if anything more hidden can be thought of, that joy of which it is said to the servant who deserved well, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord;” 96 just as also, under this republican government, one who is thrust into prison is sent out from the council chamber, or from the palace of the judge.
30. But now, with respect to paying the uttermost farthing, 97 it may be understood without absurdity either as standing for this, that nothing is left unpunished; just as in common speech we also say “to the very dregs,” when we wish to express that something is so drained out that nothing is left: or by the expression “the uttermost farthing” earthly sins may be meant. For as a fourth part of the separate component parts of this world, and in fact as the last, the earth is found; so that you begin with the heavens, you reckon the air the second, water the third, the earth the fourth. It may therefore seem to be suitably said, “till thou hast paid the last fourth,” in the sense of “till thou hast expiated thy earthly sins:” for this the sinner also heard, “Earth thou art, and unto earth shall thou return.” 98 Then, as to the expression “till thou hast paid,” I wonder if it does not mean that punishment which is called eternal. 99 For whence is that debt paid where there is now no opportunity given of repenting and of leading a more p. 14 correct life? For perhaps the expression “till thou hast paid” stands here in the same sense as in that passage where it is said, “Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool;” 100 for not even when the enemies have been put under His feet, will He cease to sit at the right hand: or that statement of the apostle, “For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet;” 101 for not even when they have been put under His feet, will He cease to reign. Hence, as it is there understood of Him respecting whom it is said, “He must reign, till He hath put His enemies under His feet,” that He will reign for ever, inasmuch as they will be for ever under His feet: so here it may be understood of him respecting whom it is said, “Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,” that he will never come out; for he is always paying the uttermost farthing, so long as he is suffering the everlasting punishment of his earthly sins. Nor would I say this in such a way as that I should seem to prevent a more careful discussion respecting the punishment of sins, as to how in the Scriptures it is called eternal; although in all possible ways it is to be avoided rather than known.
31. But let us now see who the adversary himself is, with whom we are enjoined to agree quickly, whiles we are in the way with him. For he is either the devil, or a man, or the flesh, or God, or His commandment. 102 But I do not see how we should be enjoined to be on terms of goodwill, i.e. to be of one heart or of one mind, with the devil. For some have rendered the Greek word which is found here “of one heart,” others “of one mind:” but neither are we enjoined to show goodwill to the devil (for where there is goodwill there is friendship: and no one would say that we are to make friends with the devil); nor is it expedient to come to an agreement with him, against whom we have declared war by once for all renouncing him, and on conquering whom we shall be crowned; nor ought we now to yield to him, for if we had never yielded to him, we should never have fallen into such miseries. Again, as to the adversary being a man, although we are enjoined to live peaceably with all men, as far as lieth in us, where certainly goodwill, and concord, and consent may be understood; yet I do not see how I can accept the view, that we are delivered to the judge by a man, in a case where I understand Christ to be the judge, “before” whose “judgment-seat we must all appear,” 103 as the apostle says: how then is he to deliver me to the judge, who will appear equally with me before the judge? Or if any one is delivered to the judge because he has injured a man, although the party who has been injured does not deliver him, it is a much more suitable view, that the guilty party is delivered to the judge by that law against which he acted when he injured the man. And this for the additional reason, that if any one has injured a man by killing him, there will be no time now in which to agree with him; for he is not now in the way with him, i.e. in this life: and yet a remedy will not on that account be excluded, if one repents and flees for refuge with the sacrifice of a broken heart to the mercy of Him who forgives the sins of those who turn to Him, and who rejoices more over one penitent than over ninety-nine just persons. 104 But much less do I see how we are enjoined to bear goodwill towards, or to agree with, or to yield to, the flesh. For it is sinners rather who love their flesh, and agree with it, and yield to it; but those who bring it into subjection are not the parties who yield to it, but rather they compel it to yield to them.
32. Perhaps, therefore, we are enjoined to yield to God, and to be well-disposed towards Him, in order that we may be reconciled to Him, from whom by sinning we have turned away, so that He can be called our adversary. For He is rightly called the adversary of those whom He resists, for “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble;” 105 and “pride is the beginning of all sin, but the beginning of mans pride is to become apostate from God;” 106 and the apostle says, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” 107 And from this it may be perceived that no nature [as being] bad is an enemy to God, inasmuch as the very parties who were enemies are being reconciled. Whoever, therefore, while in this way, i.e. in this life, shall not have been reconciled to God by the death of His Son, will be delivered to the judge by Him, for “the Father judgeth no man, but hath delivered all judgment to the Son;” and so the other things which are described in this section follow, which we have already discussed. There is only one thing which creates a difficulty as regards this interpretation, viz. how it can be rightly said that we are in the way with God, if in this passage He Himself is to be understood as the adversary of the wicked, with whom we are enjoined to be reconciled quickly; unless, perchance, because He is everywhere, we also, while we are in this way, are certainly with Him. For as it is said, “If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art p. 15 there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” 108 Or if the view is not accepted, that the wicked are said to be with God, although there is nowhere where God is not present,—just as we do not say that the blind are with the light, although the light surrounds their eyes,—there is one resource remaining: that we should understand the adversary here as being the commandment of God. For what is so much an adversary to those who wish to sin as the commandment of God, i.e. His law and divine Scripture, which has been given us for this life, that it may be with us in the way, which we must not contradict, lest it deliver us to the judge, but which we ought to submit to quickly? For no one knows when he may depart out of this life. Now, who is it that submits to divine Scripture, save he who reads or hears it piously, deferring to it as of supreme authority; so that what he understands he does not hate on this account, that he feels it to be opposed to his sins, but rather loves being reproved by it, and rejoices that his maladies are not spared until they are healed; and so that even in respect to what seems to him obscure or absurd, he does not therefore raise contentious contradictions, but prays that he may understand, yet remembering that goodwill and reverence are to be manifested towards so great an authority? But who does this, unless just the man who has come, not harshly threatening, but in the meekness of piety, for the purpose of opening and ascertaining the contents of his fathers will? “Blessed,” therefore, “are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Let us see what follows.
Benevolus; Vulgate, consentiens. What is matter of prudence in a civil case, becomes matter of life and death in spiritual things. The Lord does not intend to inculcate simply a law of worldly prudence as asserted by a few modern commentators.13:93
John v. 22.13:94
Matt. iv. 11.13:95
Matt. viii. 12.13:96
Matt. xxv. 23.13:97
The word translated “farthing” means literally “a fourth part” and on this original sense Augustins second interpretation is based.13:98
Gen. iii. 19.13:99
Universalists have quoted the passage to prove the doctrine that punishment will not be endless, others in favor of purgatory. The main idea is the inexorable rigor of the divine justice against the impenitent. “The whole tone of the passage is that of one who seeks to deepen the sense of danger, not to make light of it; to make men feel that they cannot pay their debt, though God may forgive it freely” (Plumptre).14:100
Ps. cx. 1.14:101
1 Cor. xv. 25.14:102
“The devil” (Clemens Alex.); “conscience” (Euthymius, Zig.); “the man who has done the injury” (Meyer, Tholuck, Lange, Trench, etc.)14:103
2 Cor. v. 10. Exhiberi; Vulgate, manifestari.14:104
Luke xv. 7.14:105
Jas. iv. 6.14:106
Sir. 10:13, 12.14:107
Rom. v. 10.15:108
Ps. cxxxix. 8-10.
Next: Chapter XII
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